Shawnee Mission Faces: Benjamin Dickens, rescuer of dogs and amateur cartoonist

In last week's installment of Shawnee Mission Faces, we talked to Benjamin Dickens a rescuer of dogs, amateur cartoonist and Roeland Park councilmember. Above, Dickens with his adopted Siberian Husky named Captain.

We recently asked some local elected officials to share pictures of their rescue dogs for “In-dog-uration Day.” One particular story stuck out to us, and we want to share it with you.

For Benjamin Dickens, a councilmember in Roeland Park with three dogs, 2020 was a year of loss and heartbreak. He wasn’t ready to adopt another pet. Then came a Siberian Husky named Captain from the Husky rescue Taysia Blue. They said Captain was “ a difficult pup to re-home.” Here’s his story.

Originally from St. Louis with a lifelong human resources career in the healthcare field, Dickens is working toward his degree in political science at the University of Kansas. The university actually just hired him two weeks ago. A homebody at heart, Dickens enjoys drawing amateur cartoons, watching the occasionally animated show (his favorite right now is “Amphibia,” what he called a “cleverly written show”) and making craft cocktails. 

He also enjoys Nintendo and Super Mario Bros., and he and his partner of 15 years, Randy Humbird, play World of Warcraft together. They live with their three dogs, Baxter, Atlas and Captain.

2020 has been an exceptionally rough year, I know, for everybody, but for this house, when the pandemic hit, I lost my job, which was really rough. I’d never been out of work before.

So we have Baxter, he’s 15, and Maya, who was my first dog ever. She was 15, a Siberian Husky, copper color, very unique, sweetest kid I’ve ever met.

They’re my kids. They are. It drives me nuts when people say I’m my dogs’ owner. Mmmm? I’m their parent. They’re my family.

And, just at the beginning of the pandemic, we actually had another little guy named Tucker. We rescued him from someone’s house who was not very kind to him. We had Tucker for about three years, and about the end of April 2020, he passed away at the age of almost 4 from a rare G.I. (gastrointestinal) disease. We sunk everything we had into trying to save him because he was so young, which made it even harder because I wasn’t working, but my god, how do you give up on a 4-year-old dog?

The one morning, we knew it was time. It was 5 a.m. We were just sitting in the living room, he was on the couch with us. We knew what we had to do, and he looked at us and said I don’t want to go, and he passed away without us having to take him in, which was nice of him (grim laugh), I’ve never had to put a dog down, so it was a weird relief for us.

That was the beginning of our summer. I’m the kind of guy, I’m like I need time, I can’t do a dog right away. Randy, on the other hand, was more distraught than I was, and that’s how we came to get Atlas, who’s our Samoyed. Randy said I need someone to fill this hole in my heart.

So you fast-forward to November-ish. I noticed that Maya, who’s again, she’s 15 at this point, same age as Baxter, and I noticed that Maya has this weird bump at the top of her nose, like at the bridge. And she started these bizarre sneezing fits, and she started to bleed from the nose pretty consistently. I’ve grown up with dogs, I knew what I was looking at. The mass was getting bigger, it was clearly cancer, nasal cancer. We went to a specialist to see how we could best ease the pain, ‘cause at 15, we know there’s not much. It took her (snaps) like that. She went from being a very healthy 15-year-old dog to just gone in a matter of weeks.

So 2020 was not kind to us. And I told Randy at that time, I said you know, I don’t know that I can go through this again. I was not ready to have another dog. Two in one year. And knowing how old he (Baxter) is, I’m like oh my god, I’m not naive. He’s a tank (laughs) but he’s not going to be here for forever. Other than his bad back he’s healthy. I tell him all the time: You. Can’t. Go.

But Randy and I, we had talked about other Huskies long before Maya ever even got sick. So we were both following different Husky rescues. And I don’t know, maybe a week or less than that after Maya had passed — it was just before Christmas — it just randomly showed up less than a week in my newsfeed on social media: this picture of Captain.

He’s got this unique face because he’s cross-eyed, and I thought my god, that is one of the prettiest dogs and such a cute smile. I thought OK, well neat, but it was still my frame of mind, I don’t want to do this anymore. This is hard. This is too hard. Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do dogs anymore. I really thought Atlas would be the last dog I’d not put up a fight about.

But I ended up booking Captain’s profile, and every couple of days, I kept going back, like oh, such a cute dog. And then at the beginning of January, I said you know what, I’m going to just submit an application, I’d like more information on Captain, which shocked the hell out of Randy.

He’s such a pretty dog, and I noticed he’s been in a foster family for two months. And I thought well there’s got to be more to this story. A dog that handsome is not going to be in foster care for that long. There’s got to be a problem. Within hours, they called me. I found out there’s nothing wrong with him at all. And I thought well that’s odd, why is he still in foster care?

We set up a Zoom conference because Captain and his foster family were in Omaha. I immediately fell in love with him just watching him run around, play with the foster parents’ actual dogs, and I found out the only reason nobody wanted to adopt him is because he’s cross-eyed. And — he’s very loud — he’s partially hard of hearing, so he knows he’s making noises, he doesn’t realize how loud he is (laughs). It made me fall in love with him even more.

And then it killed me. That’s why he doesn’t have a forever home? You’ve got to be kidding me. So by that Friday, we were on our way to Omaha, met him at a dog park, he got along with these two — that was key — perfect.

I saw a dog who, by all accounts, before I even met him, seemed like a perfect family dog that nobody wanted because he didn’t look perfect. And when people look at show dogs like Huskies, they want a perfect dog. I can tell you, when we got home, it took one night and I regretted ever thinking I would not bring home another dog.

I don’t know how to describe it. When you bring home a rescue, there is something that changes you. It’s a very emotional thing, knowing that I saved him from living in shelters or fosters his whole life. He’ll be here for forever.

And it’s hard to describe what he gave back to me. Because the way that it makes me feel every time I look at him and see how happy he actually is here — like I was terrified he wouldn’t be happy here — but just to see him lying in the house just chill, not anxious, not freaked out, it just fills my heart in a way that I do not know how to properly describe.

Maya’s dog bed is still in there. Atlas has never cared for it, he prefers the tile in the kitchen. It’s probably cooler. And Captain hadn’t used it either. I happened to have gotten up off the couch and I was walking into the kitchen two nights ago. And there was a Husky in Maya’s bed — and I’m gonna lose my shit — for a split second, I forgot she was gone.

It’s little moments like that where I just realize how much I actually needed a new friend.